The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 4, 2016

July 4

Michael Parkes was born in 1944 in Sikeston, Missouri. The work of this artist is labeled "fantasy art and magic realism." Since we do not have his exact birthday, Parkes is our American selection to celebrate their national holiday, July 4. In some circles Parkes is a name to conjure with: He is mentioned in Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (2003) where this rich shrink [a disguise, he is really the bad guy] has an original M Parkes on his wall.

As we learned from an interview with the artist, Parkes is a world traveller, and currently lives on the coast of Spain, in view of North Africa. Excerpted:

...... Parkes, a winner of the Locus Book award and an acclaimed magical realist artist with over forty years of experience, is also a lifelong bookworm with deep interests in philosophy and mythology. His art–grounded in his understanding of the varieties of conscious thought–feels like a religious experience, and, like William Blake’s mythic poetry, contains layers of spiritual insights. I chatted with Parkes about his influences, travels, and forays into the mysteries of life.

M: ...
[W]hen I was very young, art was one thing, and my spiritual search was something separate. My other interest was reading. I loved philosophy, comparative religion, and things like that. In the process of learning, the spiritual search took over and I gave up painting completely. I was twenty-four and my wife was twenty-two, and we took off and went to India, with the whole idea of living there long term. It was years before I got back into painting. The things that happened in-between really changed my life in terms of what I am as a being. It’s an ongoing process. Fortunately for me (I consider it grace rather than hard work) I have experiences relatively often where I’m simply standing still and there’s a silence that takes over and everything around me is conscious. When you have that experience, it changes the way you perceive yourself and the world, and you’re basically never alone again. With this in mind, the idea of being alone is just silly.

C: Would you say that art for you is also a meditative experience?

M: I went through quite a lot of meditation. It’s the constant struggle of not just quieting the mind, but quieting the different levels of consciousness that we all participate in. When you start meditating, you realise there’s a part of you that’s feeling this and thinking that. You suddenly realise that you have a real battle on your hands. That was the point at which I realised that you can talk about Eastern and Western philosophies and religions, but ultimately there’s only one battlefield—and that’s consciousness itself. You have only that individual laboratory in which to explore how evolution has given you a physical form. Through that form, you can explore the consciousness. That’s where meditation is especially helpful but I have to be honest— meditation can also be extremely infuriating. I’ve found that the times when the biggest experiences happen are when I’m doing nothing and least expecting it, and yet all of a sudden, there it is—this absolute silence and awareness.

Dream for Rosa, courtesy of Michael Parkes

C: Are there any books or writings that were extremely helpful for you?

M: To me, reading is a lifeline. Once you strip the spiritual structures to the core, you find that we’re not really searching for an afterlife or for ‘God’. We’re constantly attempting to understand what consciousness is; how it works through us, in us, above us, and below us. There is one book that gave me the reference point from which to look at all the other things:
The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo. This book gives a map by which you can look at consciousness in all its forms. For example, if you have an emotional experience, it’s not really efficient to interpret it with a logical mind. You should use emotional intelligence to deal with it, and vice versa.

I do have to say one thing. I have my other self. It’s more sophisticated and subtle and arose sometime in my twenties. It knows things that I don’t know. At night, when I’m in the process of dreaming or in a dream state, this other self is constantly interrupting and explaining to me what different things mean, or how you I can utilise something or ignore something else. When you’re dealing with art, music, theatre, or whatever, there is a creative process through which certain types of consciousness ‘flow’ into you. This other part of me is from that area, just smarter or more sophisticated, but certainly not enlightened.
C: Which traditions do you mostly draw your symbols from?

M: At the very beginning of my career I wanted to try and take an abstract philosophical discussion and make it pictorial. I think of humanity as existing between two gaps; one separating us from the animal kingdom, the other from the so-called ‘gods’ or divine beings. In the early paintings that I painted, I filled in creatures between the animal world, the human world, and the world of angels, devas, and lesser deities.

I think that they are genuine archetypes which—on some level—are relatable to everyone. I’ve drawn from Tibetan Buddhism, Egyptian mythology, Greek mythology…Just pooling what I thought were the most solid archetypes. My experiences working with archetypes also make me think that a lot of what the Renaissance and Ancient philosophers were saying is true; that there is a mathematical, harmonious beauty that can be perceived by everyone. Even if people are thinking about different things, they still ‘get it’ in their own way.


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